Steady, stronger Belisle seizes Twins' closer role
MINNEAPOLIS — As the Twins enter the home stretch of this once improbable run toward a postseason berth, manager Paul Molitor has unofficially selected Matt Belisle to serve as the team's closer.
"Most days, if Matt is fresh and ready, he's going to get that opportunity," Molitor said. "I think he's earned that over the past month or so."
After early-season struggles, Belisle, a 37-year-old veteran of 14 seasons, has emerged as arguably the Twins' top reliever after the team traded closer Brandon Kintzler to the Washington Nationals at the end of July.
Since then, Belisle has seven saves to just one blown save. He has posted a 1.42 earned-run average since June 14, a span of 30 appearances and 31M innings.
Part of Belisle's slow start stemmed from struggles when he pitched two days in a row.
But since June 14, Belisle has worked back-to-back days five times without allowing an earned run in any of those appearances.
"Early on, we saw a little bit of a trend there whether it was coincidental or somewhat fact-based (that) the multiple consecutive outings were not his best," Molitor said. "I think that was part of the reason we had to be careful pushing him in that ninth inning role too frequently.
"But at this time of the year with his experience and the fact that he's throwing the ball well, I'm going to give him the chance to do that more times than not. ... I just hope it continues for him."
Belisle is just one of 14 options Molitor has in the bullpen since rosters expanded Sept. 1.
"I wouldn't say it's harder (to make decisions), but it can be a little more complicated," Molitor said. "Now there are just more names in the mix. You kind of build trust in certain people that you'd like to have in there when you get a chance to win."
Miguel Sano, out since Aug. 21 due to a stress reaction on his left shin, was scheduled to run on Wednesday after taking batting practice Tuesday.
But that was scrapped after Sano felt sore Wednesday. He did take batting practice again.
"I still can't predict," Molitor said of when Sano could return. "We're just hoping that each day we get a little closer. I don't think it's imminent, but he's making progress."
Molitor said the Twins ditched Sano's planned running work because "of ill effects of yesterday's work."
Starting pitcher Adalberto Mejia is scheduled to make his first start since Aug. 8 on Saturday, returning from an upper-arm injury.
Mejia made two minor-league rehab starts in preparation, allowing one earned run in eight innings with Triple-A Rochester.
By slotting Mejia into the rotation for Saturday against Toronto, Molitor was able to keep Jose Berrios (Thursday's starter) and Bartolo Colon (Friday's starter) in their scheduled rotation spots.
"He's done some good things for us this year," Molitor said of Mejia. "His rehab has been efficient, and he's proven that he's ready to come back and hopefully help us."